A total of 3,538 doctors have accepted GP training posts for 2019 - up from 3,473 last year, Matt Hancock told the RCGP conference in Liverpool. The figure is almost 9% above the 3,250-GP trainee recruitment target set by Health Education England for 2019.
Speaking via a live video link from Westminster, the health and social care secretary repeated his commitment to primary care, calling general practice the 'bedrock' of the NHS and confirming the government remains committed to boosting the workforce by 5,000 full-time equivalent GPs.
Mr Hancock said he was 'delighted' that the 'highest ever number in history' of GP trainees had been recruited.
He said there was a 'clear disconnect' between the fact that there are 'over three times as many doctors working in hospitals than there are doctors in general practice' - despite almost 15 times as many GP visits as hospital admissions.
'More than 1m appointments a day now happen in general practice, but, historically, we haven’t prioritised general practice enough,' Mr Hancock told the conference.
The government has struggled to boost the GP workforce since Mr Hancock's predecessor Jeremy Hunt promised in 2015 to increase it - over the year to June 2019 alone the profession lost almost 600 fully-qualified GPs.
Mr Hancock said: 'It’s absolutely vital we get more people into general practice: we need to recruit more, we need to retain more, we need to make the perception, and reality, of being a GP as prestigious as any specialism.'
The health and social care secretary said the 'outdated practice' that excludes GPs from the GMC’s specialist register was 'not right'.
'It doesn’t reflect the increasingly important role GPs are going to play in the delivery of personalised, preventative healthcare in the future. We will work with the GMC to change this and include GPs on the specialist register at the earliest opportunity.'
He said that 'people, structure and technology' were fundamental to getting primary care right as the foundation of the NHS.
Mr Hancock pointed to the role of primary care networks (PCNs) in bringing in 20,000 clinical staff to support GPs over the next five years and to the £4.5bn planned increase in primary care funding by 2023/24.
He pointed to a shift in GPs' role, telling the conference: 'I like to use this analogy: previously many GPs were like soloists, or perhaps a string quartet - brilliant individual musicians.
Changing GP role
'But now, and increasingly in the future, you’re going to be more like the conductor of an orchestra, pulling together a team of specialists to produce something more than the sum of its parts.
'Your specialist skill is still going to be vital to the delivery of primary care, but you’re also going to need another set of skills as PCNs and multi-disciplinary teams expand.'
The health and social care secretary highlighted variation between practices and areas with similar patient populations, and highlighted the role of clinical triage in identifying patients who genuinely need to see a GP and to improve access.
He also highlighted the importance of digitising paper records, and technological improvements such as 'real-time and secure access to records for GPs and patients, IT infrastructure that works, inter-operable systems as standard, electronic prescribing to complement the millions of people now accessing GP services digitally'.
Commenting on the GP trainee figures, HEE deputy medical director for primary and integrated care Professor Simon Gregory said: 'This news shows that we are meeting the challenge of making general practice an attractive career choice and I am delighted to see the numbers accepted continuing to rise.
'As a GP myself I am delighted to see that more people are seeing the benefits of the role. Attracting more people to the profession means we have GPs providing much needed to care to patients in areas where we need them most.'